By Angela Tao & Emily Wang
Graphic by Isadora Gimmelfarb, photo contributed by Timothy Te
South class of 2007 graduate-turned-chemistry teacher Timothy Te goes all out for his labs: he’s exploded pumpkins, grown alum crystals and lit gummy bears on fire. His instructing prowess manifests in both his engaging labs and the kindness he’s possessed since he himself was a student.
Chemistry teacher Marianne McChesney was Te’s mentor when he started teaching. She said that his approach to teaching encourages students to think critically.
“He runs a student-centered classroom where he tries to get the students engaged in the activities, the lessons and the discussions,” she said. “He creates the learning materials so that students can understand the concepts clearly and discover some of those concepts themselves, rather than just being flat out told what the concept is.”
Junior Shelley Wei, who was in Te’s class as a freshman, said that the engagement factor of Te’s class strayed from the typical emphasis on memorization. This later led her to enroll in AP Chemistry for her sophomore year.
“I was coming into the class already kind of science-oriented, but that was my first time taking a formal chemistry class,” she said. “But I came away from the class liking the subject a lot more and having my own interest in diving deeper.”
Te’s presence also transforms the learning environment. Senior Noah Li, a former student of Te’s, said that his uplifting personality encouraged students to speak up about any areas of confusion.
“[Mr. Te] is a very friendly person, and that makes the class more interesting,” he said. “When students asked questions that seemed more simple, he would still patiently explain that in a very funny way.”
Senior Kyrah Mar, who was in Te’s class as a sophomore, said that his genial personality also aids in building bonds that continue to reinforce learning.
“He was really understanding and relatable, and [that] changed how I approach relationships with my teachers,” she said. “To have that bond and learn how to have that bond with other teachers has strengthened how I learn.”
Chemistry teacher Suzy Drurey, another mentor of Te’s, said his experience as a student at South provides him with a deeper understanding of current pupils.
“He understands that students are coming from all different backgrounds, all different sorts of experiences,” she said. “He recognizes that as a teacher, you can go up to students and [say] ‘Hey, what’s your idea on that?’ and let them feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
Te’s thoughtfulness as a teacher stems from his kindness as a student. When he first started teaching at South, English teacher Joe Golding had Te in one of his classes; he said that Te and his group of friends were memorable, but Te was unforgettable.
“[Te] was the kindest of the four [friends],” he said. “I remember [him] being a lovely kid to teach and just a wonderful kid to talk to.”
Te’s own teachers made just as big of an impression on him. He said that the care he has for his students was inspired by the support he received from his own teachers when he was going through difficult times.
“[My teachers’] impact on my life showed me how a teacher can be a role model and help kids, [especially those] who don’t really know where they are in the world or what they’re doing, figure out their own identity,” he said.
McChesney said Te’s return as a teacher gives him unique insight into positively transforming the South space for both teachers and students.
“He has a deeper understanding of the cultural values of the community and how things work behind the scenes, which makes it a little bit easier for him to do some problem-solving when situations come up,” she said. “The fact that he came back to teach at the school he went [to] says something about the positive experience that he had here, and [something about] a sense of wanting to give back.”
Te said that although he’s now paying forward the help he’d received from his teachers, he feels like his students are the ones paying him back.
“When I went here, I didn’t necessarily appreciate or realize all the things that my teachers did for me,” Te said.
“But one thing that I felt from students this year, especially with all the things going on around contracts and negotiations, is how much [they] also really appreciate their teachers. So yes, I’m paying it forward, but I also feel like I’m receiving stuff back.”